Julie Doiron and the Wooden Stars – S/T

I keep drawing comparisons to Julie Doiron, or rather compare Julie Doiron to many others. I hear her layered, lush voice and think Tori Amos at times, or Kristen Hersh’s solo work, or label-mate Jen Wood, or Paula Cole. These songs were written and recorded by Julie Doiron and then re-worked by her backing band The Wooden Stars. And I’m glad they were re-worked. Too often, it’s tempting for singer/songwriters to sit down with an acoustic guitar and sing, but when other band members add their own flairs and talents to the mix, what you get is a much richer, more textured and more impressive album, such as this one.
“The Last Time” is a slower, moodier song, but then the entire album has this feel. Julie’s lyrics shine at the beginning of this album, here included, mixed well above the sparse music. “Gone Gone” brings in backing vocals and some of the prettiest guitar layered deep in the background. Here Doiron’s voice mixes beautifully with the music, creating lush, textured arrangements. “The Longest Winter” is Doiron playing to soft drum beats and soft keyboard/piano, quiet, letting her vocals stand almost on their own. And it’s a pretty song with some lovely lyrics. “The Best Thing for Me” is bouncier, louder and faster, and here Doiron shows off her greater vocal range. Doiron has the tendency on her slower songs to hover in the same vocal range, making her songs somewhat sluggish, such as “In This Dark.” It’s in her faster songs, such as “Dance Music,” a Natalie Merchant-ish romp, that she shines. In “Au Contraire,” Doiron sings much of the song in French, a pretty language in her lush voice. “Seven” is especially sad, with Doiron singing “sorry…sorry…I haven’t been myself in weeks.” The male vocals mix perfectly with Doiron’s voice on “Sweeter,” causing me to wish more songs had both male and female vocals.
I admit it – I’m a sucker for good female musicians. After a while in the early 90s, they all started to sound the same to me. They all had sweet voices that just didn’t change much. Then there was the whole grunge and “alternative” thing, and female vocalists went somewhat out of style. Now a batch of female singer/songwriters are emerging, and they don’t sound the same anymore. Julie Doiron’s vocals wouldn’t be out of place singing with a jazz ensemble in a cloudy coffee house. But she lent her stylings to a softer rock band here, and she pulled it off, with help from The Wooden Stars, beautifully.